Free excerpt from The Abandoned, available September 30, 2021
Robin noticed Taylor Jennings sulking in the corner of Free Morple’s cafeteria. She hadn’t seen her since the first time they met, so she made it a point to go say hello.
“Hi Taylor. How are you?”
Taylor stiffened, practically recoiling.
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to come over and say hello,” Robin said.
“H-hi. Robin, right?”
The struggles of the citizens Free Morple sought to help were evident by their hollow faces, malnourished bodies, deteriorated clothes, and trepid expressions, so seeing someone who looked like life had beat her up was commonplace. But Taylor’s glum stood out to Robin. Maybe it was her motherly instincts. She found it odd her one-year-old son Jimmy wasn’t with her.
“Do you want to come get in on the fun?” Robin asked. Aside from providing the basics for people technology left behind, Free Morple sprinkled in some fun here and there. Tonight was game night, and everyone had voted on charades. Implementing joyous group activities boosted everyone’s morale, but Taylor didn’t seem to be in any mood to participate.
“No. Thank you, but no,” she said.
“Okay. Well, if you change your mind, please come join us. Sound good?”
“Okay.” Robin attempted to cheer her up with a smile, but that didn’t work. She cleared the dishes on Taylor’s table, taking the initiative to get a head start on the night’s chores. Just as she was about to carry the dishes back to the kitchen, Taylor revealed why she was so dreary.
“Jimmy is gone.”
Robin stopped in her tracks, wondering if she heard her correctly. “What do you mean, hon?” she asked.
“His dad came back to surprise,” she said using air quotes, “us on the night of his birthday. He acted like there was nothing wrong with him being gone for the last six months, like I should just be happy he was back. He was always so good at making everything appear okay on the surface, and I can’t lie, I fell for it. I was happy he was back, happy we could all be together again. For a few hours, it felt like we had a family again. You know?”
Robin nodded. She understood more than Taylor would ever realize.
Taylor continued the story. “We had a little celebration for Jimmy’s birthday. Obviously, I couldn’t afford anything too elaborate, but it didn’t matter. He was only one and didn’t know any better. I cooked, and we all shared a slice of cake. I let myself think we could all be happy together. I was willing to let the past six months stay in the past. Just let bygones be bygones. Like the angel he was, Jimmy fell asleep between his dad and me at the end of the night, but when I woke up, neither of them were there.
“At first, I assumed they had woken up before me and would be in the kitchen, but when I went in there it was empty. I searched our entire place and found no sign of them. After being frantic for the next couple of hours I filed a police report. While they were questioning me, they were notified they found a dead baby and approximately thirty-year-old man near the pier.”
Robin put her hands over her mouth as Taylor confirmed her worst fears.
“He drowned my baby in the ocean and blew his own head off after.”
Taylor barely finished telling the story before succumbing to her horrific reality. Her bawling turned the heads of the charades participants, even though she buried her face in her hands. Mortified, Robin failed to maintain a strong exterior. The innocent child she met just days before, who reminded her so much of her Jonathan, was now dead at the hands of his own father. Several questions crossed through her mind, but this wasn’t the time to get all the details. Taylor needed someone to grieve with her, someone to listen, and Robin was going to do all she could to fill that role. For as much agony as she had suffered, from being legally kidnapped from her parents to being raped on a regular basis as a child to losing her husband, Robin couldn’t fathom going through the type of anguish Taylor was. Jimmy was the one bright spot in her life, yet fate stripped him from her. By the hands of his own father.
“Oh, Taylor honey. Words can’t undo any of the heartache you’re going through right now, but—”
Taylor’s sobs bellowed through the cafeteria.
“But I want you to know sweetheart, me and everyone else here will be here for you. Whatever you need, we are here for you. I am here for you. Okay?”
Taylor tried to thank Robin but couldn’t formulate a response. The wound was still so raw. Robin didn’t think she’d ever show herself again if that happened to her; even considering that as a possibility was too daunting for Robin to think about.
After a few more minutes of consoling Taylor, Robin proceeded to finish her tasks. Several times, Robin offered Taylor a room at her house that night and for as long as she needed before getting back on her feet, but Taylor respectfully declined, claiming the best way for her to cope with her loss was by confronting it head on and alone. Based on her own experience, Robin didn’t agree with this plan, but she was in no position to suggest anything to this heartbroken mother.
Robin had originally planned to partake in charades that evening, but the distressing news from Taylor dampened her mood. She just wanted to get home and surround herself with who she loved the most. After letting one of her closest co-volunteers know she was going to leave for the night after wrapping up the tasks she still had to do, Robin headed to the empty kitchen and broke down the hardest she ever had since losing Bobby.
Any thoughts you want to share with Jake about this excerpt?